How digital interventions can promote self-management of osteoarthritis

Arthritis impacts over 10 million people in the UK and is the third biggest area of spend for the NHS with an annual cost of £10.2 billion. In this blog, Reza Safari, researcher in Health and Social Care at the University of Derby, looks at how digital technologies, as advocated in the NHS’s long-term plan, can help promote self-management of the condition.

The direct and indirect costs of arthritis are estimated to be around £30.7 million per year in the UK and, according to recent figures from Arthritis Research, one in five people will visit a GP about the condition each year.

Not only that, but the common symptoms of arthritis, such as pain and physical inactivity, are risk factors in other chronic conditions such as cardiovascular problems, depression, stroke and cancers, as well as leading to early mortality. With the UK’s ageing population increasing, arthritis is a major public health and health service concern.

The importance of digital interventions

Due to the growing burden of arthritis on our healthcare systems, delivering services and information through a digital medium, such as the internet, is a growing area of research and is vital to the successful management of arthritis.

Delivering health interventions using a digital medium is an emerging field in public health and can provide an interesting community-based model of care, especially given the rapid advances in communication technology.

Digital health interventions have the potential to be an important component in care models for patients with musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions, improving patient outcomes by delivering interventions to help them manage their own conditions, increase their access to best practice and monitor their lifestyle and symptoms.

Osteoarthritis, self-management and digital interventions

Osteoarthritis is the breakdown of protective cartilage on the ends of bones which causes pain, swelling and problems moving the joint. While the condition is not curable, the symptoms, and the speed at which they progress, can be managed.

Self-management programmes are the cornerstone of providing the best outcomes for patients. NICE guidelines recommend providing patient-specific information to help people understand their condition and its progressive nature, backed up by tailored self-management programmes, regular monitoring, information sharing and regular contact with a multi-disciplinary team.

Previous studies have found that internet-based programmes can be effective for patients with MSK conditions, helping to address the lack of continuity of care and self-management support, and difficulty in accessing psychological and pain management specialists.

Research underway at Derby

Our recent review, funded by NIHR-CLAHRC East Midlands, considered whether digital technologies, as advocated in the NHS’ long-term plan, could be used to support the self-management of osteoarthritis.

Although existing studies suggest that digital health interventions can be beneficial, there is a lack of knowledge about which intervention or type of digital medium provides the greatest clinical improvements to which patients.

Along with my colleagues, Jessica Jackson from the College of Health and Social Care’s Research Centre and David Sheffield from the College of Life and Natural Sciences, I’m currently working to fill this gap by gathering evidence relating to self-management programmes delivered through a digital medium to people with osteoarthritis. We’re looking at how effective digital technologies are in addressing a range of patient outcomes such as pain, disability, function and quality of life.

Once the data has been collected and analysed, we’ll be able to see which programmes or methods of delivery show the most benefit. The information can then be fed back to patients, doctors, nurses and others involved in the delivery of services to adolescents with arthritis, to help them be more effective in their roles.

Research showcase launch

We will be sharing the results of our review at an event at our Kedleston Road site in Derby on 20 March, from 4pm-5.30pm. Those with experience of osteoarthritis, carers and professionals with an interest in this area are invited to join us to share their views on how the research might impact them and improve health practice.

To register for the event, please contact Jessica Jackson on 01332 593813, or email j.jackson2@derby.ac.uk



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